I’m glad my father’s dead, he was an engineer. He was born in 1921, he lived into his 90’s, he’s dead, he was an engineer. He was a kind man – simply kind. This world, this Covid-19 strange half-lived life foggy with memories squeezed dry of emotion, making phantoms of the people and the things we love, would have tested his kind spirit.
I miss my father and I’m glad he’s dead. Glad he’s not here to see this. Coronavirus, an invisible thing, his children and grandchildren frightened, confused. Tories become Socialists, America failing, China on our doorstep, Amazon king, cleaners become heroes, nurses and doctors of every hue sacrificing themselves upon the altar of care, masks become currency, Zoom, Lockdown, Curves, Distancing, Shielding, Icke in the news again and TikTok our soundtrack.
He had the best of deaths. At the end of an early summer evening he’d let Ben the dog out into the garden that my mother had made, sat down on the sofa to wait, dog treat in hand, and his heart failed. The garden that his wife had created and nurtured for fifty years, he her willing labourer, her Mellors, since they’d moved to the unexceptional Edwardian detached in a village the Vale of Glamorgan in the early 1960s. His heart gave out and his carer found him next day, sitting on the sofa, fully clothed, dog at his side.
The 1960s – a blink of an eye since the end of The War – a war which for many of my parents’ generation provided the emotional, psychological and moral spine around which they built their whole narrative – three children, eight grand-children, two great-grandchildren – a truly happy love affair played out against the backdrop of the beautiful garden my mother made.He’d have hated this. He was an engineer you see and he thought things could always be designed, built, fixed – society, people, need, fear, the heart, the world, God.
He believed this until his end. He wouldn’t have believed this. He couldn’t have believed this. Yes he’d have Clapped for Carers but the whole notion of there existing something called a ‘Jeff Bezos’ worth 90 billion pounds, his company making £8,000 per second as Amazon in France closed all its warehouses under order of the courts for failing to protect its workers from this plague, might have broken even his strong, gentle soul.
I’m glad he’s dead. He was a brave man. He endured my mother’s long illness with proper courage and undiminished love. At the end, thin as a feather, pale blue-veined face shining gently in the half-life of the little room in the hospice where she lived-out her final days, when her breaths came in long-drawn-out rasps like waves on a shingle beach at the turn of the tide – my father couldn’t stay at her side. Not a failure of courage, more the need to keep alive his reality of the woman whose spirit had long-since become indistinguishable from his own. She was like a leaf, transparent against the light, a wisp waiting to be blown away.
He made Spitfire engines in The War – a perfectionist driven by a need to live up to his own father – himself a hero of the Great War and a survivor of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. My father was an engineer, a self-styled rationalist and cold logician who couldn’t bear the pain of children and spent a life raging against bullies – nations, institutions and people. He couldn’t have been more self-deceiving if he’d tried. He was deeply emotional, wrestling with feelings and thoughts he never understood but came to terms with: “I don’t believe in God but I do miss him”, he’d chuckle, “put that on my gravestone”. He’s buried in the same grave as my mother. He lived on a while after her death and developed depression for the first time in his life and he didn’t understand it because he was …. after all …. an engineer.
“I can’t describe it Nick. It’s like looking at the world through a frosted window. I can see everything out there but I’m not part of it. I look at my heart but I’m not sure what I feel.” I couldn’t tell him that this is what it’s so often like for many of us and to escape The Black Dog for ninety years was to be blessed. “I suppose this is grief.”
Of course, all the people I’ve grieved for have been much on my mind lately. Just before Lockdown I escaped the tension of the house, emotions frayed by the sheer oddness of everything I found myself in my local church and fell into conversation with a reluctant vicar. I asked him if this thing – this plague - had challenged or strengthened his faith. I hoped for….. well …. I don’t know what I hoped for. But what he told me was not what I would have wished. In essence he said I should understand that those with true faith understood that at heart this world is s*** and so are people. So it seems that God can’t be fixed.
I lied. I wish my father was alive. The thing is that I think he would have coped with all of this much better than me. I can see everything out there but I’m not part of it – I don’t understand any of this at all. In truth I’ve not understood 'it' for a long time.
I’ve kept one thing from when we cleared the family home, it’s dad’s slide rule; my inability to master mathematics frustrated and confused him but I’ve always found it beautiful. But I wish I had his old Spanish guitar a reminder of the hours he’d spend sitting in the garden, imagining himself to be Julian Bream or Segovia, brow-furrowed, picking out poor renditions of Rodrigo as my mother created her masterpiece.
He thought that music was magical science. He was an engineer. I wish he was alive. I miss him very much now.